Meet Sidney the Canary

A couple of weeks ago I bought a canary. I can’t remember why exactly, except that I’d been vaguely thinking of getting one for a little while and we just happened to be in a shop selling pets as well as chainsaws, which is what we’d just bought for Chris. I’d done a bit of research and knew that the males are the better singers, so when we spotted a little greeny-bronze canary singing his heart out then it was obvious he was the one for us.


The shop assistant caught him. As usual this took ages. I’ve bought my birds from a number of different shops but at each one the catching procedure is the same. You tell the assistant which one you want (well, we didn’t with the zebra finches as they all looked exactly the same so any one would do) and they stick their hand in the cage and flail around until they happen to catch the one you want, purely by accident. Even I use a net to catch my lads at home, so it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that a net would help things along considerably. However, that doesn’t seem to be the French way. This assistant hadn’t even assembled the little cardboard box in which to put the canary when caught, so he pretty much stuck the bird into his armpit while he folded and taped the box together. I offered to do that for him but that would have meant breaking union regulations, or so I concluded, and he declined. He then popped the bird into the box, which he promptly turned over in order to tape up what had been the bottom. This meant the poor bird now found itself on its head! There was a flutter of feathers and scurry of claws from inside. At least it was still alive.

Adding up a pack of canary food to our purchases, we paid up at the cash desk and headed home.

I wasn’t sure where to house the canary. I’d originally wondered about putting him in the big bird cage with the budgie Syrup, Cora and Dora the finches and the quail Genghis and Börke, but it turns out canaries prefer their own company. That would mean a separate cage then, one I didn’t have as yet, so the hamster cage made do as the bird’s first residence.


The bird needed a name. I’d named my first budgie Maple since Caiti was in Canada at the time. Well, this bird purchase round she was in Australia, in the large city with the Opera House, so the obvious name for him was Sidney. I’d have spelt it with a y but Sydney is a girl’s name in the US. One I’ve found hard to come to term with since I had an Uncle Sidney. (According to the, Sydney was at its most popular as a girl’s name in 2000, when out of every million babies born in the US, 5,664 were given that Christian name.)

Back to my Sidney. He was a little quiet to start with, not surprising given all the stress he’d just been through, and that was without the indignity of having to live in a rodent’s dwelling (rodentless though, I hasten to add). But he soon began to explore, and then to sing. I hadn’t been quite sure what to expect but by golly, canaries can sing. He gives a long warble followed by whistles and twiddles and has a very distinctive finishing cadence. Much more pleasant to listen to than budgie screeches and finch beeps!

Canaries, as the name implies, come from the Canary Islands. Their full name is serenus canaria domestica, and they are a domesticated variety of a wild songbird in the finch family. They were first imported into Europe by the Spaniard in the 17th century. They became fashionable in the kings’ courts and were a luxury. Only males were sold by the breeders to start with so as to keep control over the supply and therefore keep the price high. Eventually hens became available and canaries became affordable and popular with all people, not just the wealthy.

There are three main varieties: colour (bred for their appearance in colour), type (bred for the shape and conformation – there’s apparently a Yorkshire canary amongst these) and song canaries, of which the Spanish timbrada and the German roller are the most famous. I don’t know what Sidney is exactly, but I think he’s just a bog standard pretty canary. His singing is quite amazing, so these special song canaries must sound out of this world.

Sidney now has a proper canary cage, and a nest, which so far he’s only pooped in. He roosts on a perch with his head under his wing. He’d addicted to seed sticks. Since these are quite expensive, I’ve started making my own for him using a combination of flour, water and honey to glue the seeds to the recycled sticks with. Sidney enjoys these DIY ones every bit as much as the shop-bought ones. Or maybe he’s just greedy!


You’re probably familiar with the tradition of using canaries in coal mines to detect bad air. They do seem to be very sensitive to it. Benj was home a week ago and cooked himself up a pan of bacon. He turned the gas ring on full blast. (He later blamed this on being used to slow electric hotplates at uni that have to be turned up to high to produce any heat at all.) This produced a lot of smoke. I was deep in concentration writing, I think, and only vaguely aware of Sidney singing frantically. It was only when Chris came in from outdoors and commented on the thick fug in the kitchen that I looked up and found that it was hard to see across the room! No wonder Sidney had been bellowing at us in his musical way. He thought he was about to asphyxiate. Now every time the frying pan goes on he starts singing loudly and anxiously!

Sidney is a very inquisitive, lively bird and a great and musical little companion.